With this weather it seems early, but yesterday I helped a fellow beekeeper capture the first swarm of the season!
Not all beekeepers are familiar with the USDA Bee Research Laboratory located in Maryland. The laboratory provides free diagnosis of diseases in honey bees. According to their site "Samples received of adult bees and beeswax comb (with and without bee brood) are examined for bacterial, fungal and microsporidian diseases as well as for two species of parasitic mites and other pests associated with honey bees (i.e., small hive beetle, Aethina tumida). When requested, American foulbrood samples are cultured and isolates are screened for their sensitivity to Terramycin (oxytetracycline) and Tylan (tylosin).
Learn how to submit samples at the laboratory's website and better understand the challenges your bees are facing!
I recently presented at the Williamsburg Area Beekeepers Association meeting on Virginia's limitation on liability for beekeepers. You can read the actual law here, and the related Best Management Practices (BMP) here. The limitation code states "A person who operates an apiary in a reasonable manner, in compliance with local zoning restrictions, and in conformance with the written best management practices as provided by regulation of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall not be liable for any personal injury or property damage that occurs in connection with his keeping and maintaining of bees, bee equipment, queen breeding equipment, apiaries, or appliances." I was curious as to how this functioned in practice. Was the state going to do inspections? Was an apiary going to be required to self-certify? To find an answer I reached out the the state and received the following:
"The Best Management Practices, BMP, regarding limited liability for beekeepers is a voluntary program. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services does not include verification of the BMP’s in normal apiary inspection. We anticipate verification in BMP compliance will only be needed in regard to pending liability litigation. Beekeepers should retain records for purposes of verifying specific practices, i.e. queen purchases."
By my understanding, the state will only verify compliance if someone sues a beekeeper. And, based on this response, it is the beekeeper's responsibility to document his or her actions following the BMPs in order to gain the protection of this limitation of liability. Do note, I'm not a lawyer - seek your own legal advice on this matter!
With this in mind I have developed a basic self-verification and record keeping checklist of the BMPs that a beekeeper can utilize on a regular basis to document compliance. I have made this checklist available for download for all beekeepers in the Commonwealth. If you do download the form, you agree to the following: User understands and accepts that no warranty of any kind is made to the use of the form for any legal or regulatory reasons; user assumes all risk and responsibility.
The University of Guelph Beekeeping Lab has an excellent series of educational beekeeping videos. The university is located just outside of Toronto (located here, for those geographically challenged). They answer some typical questions about hive equipment, protective clothing, etc. Watch a few videos for no other reason than to hear those wacky Canadian accents "They will tell you aboot the pro-cess...".
Samuel Ramsey spoke at a VSBA training event this weekend that I attended in Virginia Beach. His full presentation is summarized by him in three minutes in the video below. As noted in this UMD article "For nearly 50 years, researchers have believed that the mite fed on the hemolymph (the “blood”) of the honey bee. Ramsey’s research establishes that the mites are primarily feeding on the honey bee’s fat body tissue—an organ in insects that serves a similar role to the human liver. Since several existing systemic pesticides were formulated assuming that mites fed on hemolymph, this discovery explains why these pesticides were never successful in controlling the mites. The mites will never ingest enough to kill them, but frequent exposure may contribute to future resistance." In his lecture he went into great detail on all the negative impacts Varroa have by feeding on this fat body tissue. Essentially, the fat body tissue is a critical to a number of life cycle functions and its destruction contributes to multiple mortal impacts on honey bees.
This was one of the most fascinating bee lectures I've sat through in a long time. His research will change the entire approach we take to control Varroa mites and their negative impact on Honey Bees. In fact, he hinted that a major company has already approached him to leverage his research! His work is now going through peer review and so is not fully published. I did capture his conclusion slide and it is worth repeating here:
I have a small water garden outside my kitchen window and use it to judge how cold it really is and how long it has been cold. Well, for southeast Virginia it has been pretty cold! The spitter in the photo below has had ice forming around it for the last few days. The water stream is actually now deflected by the ice to the left (behind the ice block). When it gets like this I start worrying a little about the bees, but not too much. Compared to what folks up north work with, it is not so bad here. The weather is staying cold until at least January 8th, when it will get up to about 50. I'll check some hives then and add winter patties as needed (I make them myself).
I use a thermal imaging camera to check on hives in the winter. These photos are a little blurry, given the lack of ambient light, but they quite nicely show the winter cluster of this small hive. There is a clear six degree temperature differential near and away from the cluster.
For the winter I place dry sugar on the inner cover as emergency food for my bees. Many folks put it on the top bar, using newspaper to hold it. I've found putting it on the inner cover is easier and just as effective. The second photo is a cluster that was checking me out as I removed a box and lowered the inner cover. I was very late getting this hive ready for winter due to a longer vacation.